Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Making your students feel stoopid.

If the designer of this particular course reads this blog - my sincere apologies.
I hope you are given more flexibility for the upgrade of this certification course.

But I really have to vent.....


See the guy in the picture? Besides the fact that he's male and reading paper, that's me attempting to slog through the training shown.

From taking this online course, I have discovered a few tips for making your students feel stupid / angry.

- Make sure all of your text is written using the specific jargon of the subject you are teaching.

- Incorporate a monotone voice (male or female) reading all of the highly jargonized text to me.

- Make sure the student has to hit the pause button and/or go back to the previous slide to take notes because the slide containing paragraphs of highly jargonized text moved quickly.

- Provide no auditory or visual emphasis on what is important.

- Phrase important definitions so that they make no sense or contain circular logic. See below for an example.

- Have the exercise and quiz questions make absolutely no sense to anyone with an advanced grasp of language, much less apply to the ostensible objectives of the course. Please read the quiz question below and see whether your eyes cross.

Oh - and did I mention that all of the objectives to these courses are of the "Understand..." and "Recognize..." variety.

What am I supposed to DO with this information?!?!?!?

Now - I would like to think I am reasonably intelligent.
I have 2 masters degrees.
I spent 10 years in college.
I've read a bunch of business books over the years.
I've even taken some business courses.

I really can't be this stoopid.

I have already slogged through 6 hours of this. It appears I have at least 12 hours to go.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What is a failed project?

Karyn and I have a running conversation in the comments of her last post.

Last night, I started thinking....what is a "failed project"?

Is it the project that gets through implementation, then just doesn't work - or worse, harms your business? (This was my initial definition. Now I'm not so sure.).

Is it the project that never makes it past the analysis stage?

Is it determined by the ROI (or lack thereof) for the amount of money/time/resources spent?

I know we go into projects looking for measures of success.

Do any of us define when to give up? Where spending more money/time/resources doesn't make sense?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dr. Zoltan Speaks

25.) When learning rules or systems, identify which ones are useful for you. Some rules can be broken or completely disregarded. Decide which traditions are important to you and which ones are not. If you want to end a song on a diminished chord, do it.
- Dr. Zoltan

Found Dr. Zoltan's valuable tips for creativity through Roger von Oech's Creative Think.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Beating Decisions to Death

I was sitting in a meeting the other day for one of those "problem projects."

Throughout my involvement, I couldn't put my finger on why it has been so hard to make a decision and stick with it. Until I witnessed the following:

PM: Next up, how we are going to handle Organizational Accounts

Associate Muck: They don't have portal accounts. So there is still an issue.

Main Muck: Is this important for Go Live?

Associate Muck: No. But....

Main Muck: Is there any reason why the old process will be problematic?

Associate Muck: No. But we think that they will really like this new system.

Main Muck: Has any of the organizations expressed any interest? They are aware of what's happening.

Associate Muck: Haven't heard anything yet.

Main Muck: Are there any variables that I am not aware of that will make this a necessary part of the implementation.


Main Muck: Excellent! So let's not worry about it until after the go live. The decision is to table the Organizational Account implementation until after the students are up and running.

(Note: The main muck is really really high up in the organization - so the buck stops there. We don't have to worry about any approvals regarding this decision).

Developer: We need to look at why we did not give the organizations portal accounts.

Associate Muck: Wasn't it connected with not having a concrete person to attach the account to?.....

Ah HA! No WONDER the project gets confused about their decisions! They make a decision - then they continue discussing the decision. Even AFTER THE MAIN MUCK HAS MADE THE DECISION and all variables in making the decision have been discussed!

From my perspective - this should be a much easier process:
1) Determine the decision that needs to be made
2) Discuss all of the variables. Bring in experts and stakeholders if necessary.
3) Make the decision
4) Get the appropriate approvals.
5) Revisit the decision ONLY if new variables come in to play as a result of the approval process. (Any forgotten variables that impact the decision will be discovered here).
6) Implement the decision.

These guys were revisiting the decision after getting the approvals and rehashing the old variables. Ad nauseum.

Thankfully, the Main Muck lost patience after 5 minutes. I'm beginning to really like this guy......

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Playing with Bunnies

After discovering I was better at killing my own armies rather completing objectives in Command and Conquer 3 - I decided to start a game that is more up my alley.

Rayman Raving Rabbids.

I have a serious soft spot for mini-games incorporating weird cartoony bits.
It matches my attention span (not high) and my love of cartoons.

A few characteristics about the game that stuck out:

- Before each game, a Rabbid demonstrates how you are supposed to use the controls.

- The objectives for each game are clearly (and sometimes hillariously) laid out.

- The graphics are pretty straightforward and match the objective.

- Though you get instructions, there is a missing piece of information that you have to figure out to succeed in the game. It's more of an execution tip than anything mind-bendingly difficult, but it makes the games a lot more interesting.

The variety was enough to keep myself entertained for a few hours (let's see what game this door opens!). Eventually, I will figure out how to set the game up as a multiplayer experience. Then a whole mess of us thirtysomethings can spend a quality evening playing with bunnies!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

When Prior Knowledge Hurts

I've been playing Command and Conquer 3 on the Xbox 360 over the past week and a half. My SO and his buddies had spent many hours playing earlier versions of this in their youth. In this case - the advice didn't help.

OK, Wendy - you have to build Power Plants, Reactors and a Science and Technology building first.

Um... I don't have a Science and Technology building to build. I have Power Plants and Reactors. And it keeps telling me to build Tiberium Silos.

You should build a tank here.

I don't have a tank to build....and I still can't figure out how to build a Tiberium Silo.

Wendy trains an engineer from the Barracks.

You know, we don't play with engineers. Alex used to wipe us out with his engineers so we put a rule that you couldn't use engineers.

But engineers are the only way to take over the buildings the computer wants me to take over. I can't do it with Rifle Squads and Missle Squads.

Wendy builds another engineer. Because the people are so small - she promptly loses the engineer among the rest of the images in the game. Zooming the camera in doesn't help much.

You really need to build a science and technology building.

I don't have a science and technology building to build!!!! I have power plants, reactors, barracks and, somewhere in this blasted thing, a Tiberium Silo!!!!!

The computer reminds her that she needs to build a Tiberium Silo. The SO begins another piece of advice that, at this particular moment, would not be listened to even if it was useful. Wendy lets out a string of unprintable utterances that chases the SO out of the room.

In the quiet, she finally figures out how to build the Tiberium Silo.


During this episode - which, thankfully ended without too much damage to our relationship - I realized that he had played a very different game from the one I was playing at that moment.

His game was more freeform and he was playing online with his buddies.

This game was more structured, with very detailed assignments, limited options, and things that had to happen in a particular order. I wasn't going to get a science and technology building until I needed one according to the gameplay. That was that.

The items you have access to in Command and Conquer 3 - Tiberium Wars vary based on the assignment - so in the next assignment, I couldn't build and train folks if I needed them. If I killed them all off - I had to wait (and attempt to find) more troops. There was also no obvious way to get out of the mission if you completely messed up. Grrrrr.......

Sometimes, we need to stop and evaluate what we are actually seeing. A situation may have the same name, even roughly the same function. But the rules may be entirely different. In this case, prior knowledge may serve more to aggravate than ameliorate.

Monday, July 21, 2008

One Way to Measure Success

In the Washington Post today - a report on how our schools SHOULD be measured.

And why will we keep looking at standardized tests?
Because they are cheaper, easier and take less time.
Not because they measure anything useful.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Please Stop Throwing Stuff at Me!!!!

One day I am going to sit down and create a taxonomy of SMEs......

Karyn and I have been having a conversation between our blogs and comments about SMEs whose idea of "training" consists of throwing lots of material at the student.

And the "objective" I am always given by the content-throwers when I ask is - "They need to understand X."

Sorry - that is a cop-out!

You provide information because you want them to actually DO something with it. Even if it is as simple as stopping before they do something and calling someone for help.

This is true even with the "mandatory training." Because a mandatory training was either created as a result of someone DOING something they shouldn't have OR as a result of a behavior they must demonstrate in the future. (If someone has an example of a mandatory training that does not fit one of these categories, please send me a message in the comments.)

(Wendy steps off her soapbox)

One of my projects requires me to shuffle through a lot of information and attempt to put it in some order.

On my desk right now:
- a homegrown 48 slide powerpoint
- a 96 slide powerpoint given as an example of what they would like to see
- a purple 5 page document (Times New Roman 12 point font, single space) from the US Government
- a yellow bulleted document, front and back from the client department. (Times New Roman 12 point font, single space)
- A paper decision tree.

This does not include the 6 browser windows I have open with various reference sites for the project.

The "professional" way I should have approached it - facilitate the SME as she provides information and the script for the final product.

What I actually did - grab all of the material and put a prototype together praying that we will have an actual talking point. Placed big red boxes in the middle of pages where I couldn't find the information myself or had questions. Hope that the end product actually works.

So what is the best way to work with a content-thrower SME?

What are your recommendations for making sure the SME is involved in the process while not overwhelming you with information that doesn't meet the objective, but HAS TO BE IN THERE?

If you blog - please send me a comment with a link.

Thanks for your help.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I am an Educator

Thinking about the previous post on being a Writer....I wonder if part of our existential angst regarding our profession is the result of the definition of an Educator or Teacher being just as slippery as being a Writer.

teach·er [tee-cher]
a person who teaches or instructs, esp. as a profession; instructor.

ed·u·ca·tor [ej-oo-key-ter]
a person or thing that educates, esp. a teacher, principal, or other person involved in planning or directing education.

(I like that the definition of "educator" also includes things.)

Though this particular readership falls under the "esp. as a profession" category (most of us have trainer/teacher/instructional something or other on our business cards), think about the number of people who teach/instruct/educate as a large part of their job. Yet it's not part of their title or formal job description.

The construction worker showing one of his co-workers a new technique for mitering corners. Is he a teacher/educator?

A co-worker showing her new colleague the department's data entry tool. Is she a teacher/educator?

Spike (my little enforcer kitty) training me to scratch him behind the ears each time he sits on the corner of my bed and meows in a certain way. Is he a teacher/educator?

In the comments to yesterday's post, Janet noted:
I think this conversation will got down the 'what is art?' road. What is writing? Well, it depends who's writing and who's reading.

Is that the problem we are having as "professional educators" these days?

Just a little navel gazing for the weekend....

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I am a Writer

Writer - [rayh-ter]
- a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., esp. as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.
- a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing: an expert letter writer.
- a person who writes or is able to write: a writer in script.

Recently, I've been thinking about whether I should consider myself a "writer".

Someone like my friend Beau is most definitely a Writer. He makes money writing, is published and has even won some awards. He essentially fits the definition of "writer" many of us first think of when we hear that he or she is a "writer."

(Beau - winning an award for your Virginia Tech piece is karmic recognition for most eloquently stating what many of us were thinking and couldn't quite put together. Thank you.)

Then there is my friend JP - who writes very complicated novels and still won't submit them to the public eye. To my knowledge, only 2 people on the face of the earth has read his material. Me and one other friend. He considers himself a Writer. He works very hard on his craft - drafting over and over again until a sentence reads perfectly. Would you consider him a Writer or just some guy who writes?

Then there are folks who write things like instruction manuals and the like as part of their job. Would you consider these folks Writers or just folks who write?

Then there are the bloggers. Do you consider yourself a Writer or just someone who blogs?

I've been asked a few times whether I consider myself a Writer. My response has always been "If you define writer as someone who performs the act of writing, then yes. We all are to a certain extent. Otherwise, no." But if I look at the situation coldly, I guess I can claim the title for myself.

I write as an important part of my profession. I write in the public eye (through this blog). I've been published at least once. I even get recognized for my writing on occasion (wish I could find the post thanking the 10 people who voted for me for some best eLearning blog award whose name I can't remember). On really good days, I'll even agonize over my sentences.

I guess that means I'm a Writer.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Second Life type Tools - Lively

I still don't have a real purpose for Second Life yet. But I'm getting asked more questions about it.

Interestingly, as soon as I sent my boss an invite to meander through Second Life with me, my feed reader explodes with stuff on Lively, Google's Second Life style ap.

There are a couple of features I like right off the bat.
- I can build my own rooms and make them public or private.

- Rooms are easy to navigate to. Of course, this could be good or bad. I notice that despite Google's terms trying to discourage virtual sex, there are already 3 or 4 rooms at least dedicated to that. On the first page of the search. Sorted by occupancy. Figures.

- The avatars are pretty cool. How do you like my evil kitty?

- We can use meaningful names for our avatars.

- I can embed the room into my web page (or blog). BTW - that thing in the corner is a sake vat. You never know when you might need one.

I can see this being a useful space for virtual meetings. Or for a virtual "orientation" space. The download executed quickly and does not seem to take nearly as much memory as the Second Life download. Navigation is also more intuitive than second life (though I'll admit I haven't moved around much.)

They haven't opened up for user-generated content yet, though I can add items I've uploaded to YouTube and Picassa.

Let me know if you want to come experiment with me.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

One Project at a Time

A somewhat indirect response to the Big Question Lead the Charge? : The Learning Circuits Blog


I may be wrong about this - but isn't our primary goal to encourage behavior change?

SMEs come to me because they need their employees to do something different.

They want help accomplishing this. That's where folks like us come in.

In the day-to-day, we still need to look at
- Who is the audience and how many?
- How quickly does the information change?
- Where and when will they need this information / perform this task / use this behavior?
- Is there a requirement that "training" must happen? (Does a box need to be checked?)
- What limitations are in place when deciding on approach (time/$$$$/infrastructure/people)?

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches provides more tools in the toolbox. Just because we have the tool doesn't necessarily mean it is the best one for that job.

On the other hand, if one of these new tools IS the best tool for the job then we should not hesitate to argue for its use and help develop the infrastructure for it.

It helps to have a lot of tools. Technological, design, theory and experience. More tools = more options.

As an example - one of my current projects is developing a decision support tool. We decided it would be a more effective way to encourage behavior change than a traditional course structure. They need the information when they make the decision - not months before in an orientation course where the SME throws hundreds of pages of stuff at them.

The tools I used - ideas I gathered from the blogs (thanks folks!), Captivate, storyboarding techniques from my time at EdTech school, Google.

If it proves to be more effective than their old training course - bully, another tool in the toolkit and more ammunition for trying something even more "out-there" later.

(Maybe a "game?" Ooooooh......)

I have found time and again that successful major change is an evolutionary process best done one project at a time. If the project works, it's easier to convince others to push the envelope a bit more later.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Where Things Used to Be

The SO and I spent a quality Monday at Kings Dominion recently. We both grew up in the same town. We went to this amusement park every summer through college. As adults, we went more sporadically. Maybe once every 2-3 years. I had a 10 year gap where I didn't go at all since I lived out of the area. This was the first time we went together.

Interestingly, we both had the same patterns and list of rides.

1) Check the line at the newest coaster (this year, the Dominator). It was short, so we went. If it was long, we would have gone to the next ride....

2)Go on the coolest coaster in the park. The Volcano. One of the best examples of infrastructure repurposing I've seen. If you look at the ride, you can see the remains of Smurf Mountain and the Haunted River (so THAT'S that they did with the old skeletons). The corner that used to hold the Time Machine still has some of the plaster mountain, but it is now covered with bushes.

3) Go on the first old standby. In this instance, the Rebel Yell. Traditionally, this was a reasonably smooth (for a wooden coaster), straightforward, long ride. This poor thing is showing its age. There's a lot more shake in it than before, one bump that wasn't there, and chipping paint on the tracks. We used to ride this coaster over and over and over and over as kids. The lines were short and the coaster was simple fun. This time, we only rode it once. Maybe its old age, but our equilibrium isn't letting us ride these things back to back like we used to. And we both thought that neither of us would be surprised if they closed this thing for a season for refurbishment real soon. It's due...

4) Go on another newer ride.

5) Go on another old standby.

Alternate 4 and 5 until you complete the list or until the headache refuses to subside.

This trip, we avoided the Grizzly. A shame since that is on my list of favorite coasters ever. But the advantage of having gone to a park multiple times is that if you decide to forgo a favorite, you've been on it before. So why did we avoid this coaster? Ummm....too violent. It's a teeth-rattler on the best of days. Best teeth-rattler ever, in my opinion. We couldn't do it.


So what does my trip to Kings Dominion, remembering where things used to be, have to do with education? Well, lots.

I've been working the Freshman Orientation days this summer at the university. It's interesting to listen to the parents ask questions about how their kids will be educated and reminisce about their college days.

Are they allowed to have laptops in the classroom? I'm afraid my kid won't pay attention and just play games.

How many of the professors are using this Blackboard thing? We didn't have that when we were in school.

You know, when I was in school, we didn't have Google or the internet or any of that.

I think about how different my History education would have been if I tried it now. Notes were on handwritten 3x5 cards and sorted for the thesis. Some libraries still had card catalogs. If I needed primary source material, I had to figure out a way to physically get there.

For myself and many of my colleagues, dissertation subjects were determined more by access to primary source materials than by interest.

Think about how the internet changes all of that.

Despite ourselves, we look back for familiar landmarks.

This is where the King Kobra used to be.

Hey, the Crypt is where the Safari Monorail used to be.

I wonder what they closed behind the fence?
(Turned out to be the Hypersonic XLC)

The trick is to focus on the opportunities right now and the options in front of you. I'm happy that I had a chance to ride the new, even if it meant forgoing a favorite old. And even if it's closed or dismantled next time, I still remember. There's other stuff to explore.